Britain and France are to launch a joint surveillance plane that will patrol the English Channel around the clock to catch people smugglers.
The move is seen by the Home Office as “the final piece in the puzzle” in its drive to cut small boat crossings. The plane is said to be capable of flying in all weathers, while the drones currently used for Channel patrols cannot be flown in heavy cloud cover.
And it is hoped it will make it easier to prosecute people smugglers because it can film crossings to provide evidence that can be used in court. It will also improve the British and French authorities’ ability to track boats making the dangerous crossing.
Read more: Sunak says small boats strategy is starting to show results
The plane’s deployment was announced following a meeting between Home Secretary Suella Braverman and France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin on Thursday at the National Crime Agency. The pair are understood to have discussed how the plane might be used in the Channel.
It has reportedly already been signed off by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and has completed successful test flights. The joint venture was agreed despite reports in French media that Mr Darmanin had criticised the UK for its complaints about French efforts to prevent crossings from taking place.
He was quoted as saying: “We are guarding the border for the British people. Therefore you would expect to receive thanks rather than complaints.”
In a speech this month, Rishi Sunak claimed small boat crossings have reduced by 20 percent in the five months since he launched his plan to tackle people smugglers.
“This is the first time since this problem began that arrivals between January and May have actually fallen compared to the year before,” he said.
A Home Office spokesman told the Mail Online: “We are focused on stopping the boats and we will use all the technology available to us to ensure no stone is left unturned as we go after the criminals behind this illegal trade.”